Author Archive

California Drought (again) (Passion #4)

This is actually a really funny post for me, because way back in September, I wrote about a very similar topic for my first passion blog. It was about the struggles Californians were facing while going through a drought, and a creative solution for Californians to keep their lawns looking green. Since they were saving as much water as possible, a company was going around town spray painting resident’s lawns green to keep them looking as lush as ever. It seems that not much has changed since September.
http://sites.psu.edu/clb5923/2014/09/03/could-silicon-valley-use-some-help-from-happy-valley/

In fact, the drought has gotten significantly worse. It has gotten so bad that Governor Brown of California declared this drought a state of emergency in January. This YouTube video shows Governor Brown declaring the state of emergency, as well as pleading with all Californians to come together and help support each other by restricting their water use.

As many people know, California is not the best place for water. There are almost no freshwater sources in the state and as such, they are forced to irrigate their water from the Hoover Dam. This is normally not a problem for California, they have been doing this since the dam was built. However, record breaking droughts over the past five years have made the water shortage astronomical.

20141113_064350_SJM-RAINLACK-1114-90_400

With this water shortage, there are all kinds of cutbacks being made on water usage. In fact, there are so many restrictions that the state of California had to create an entire section on their website to cover all of the different rules and regulations for water use (). This plan outlines what the government will be doing to help alleviate the water crisis, and only posted this to make their actions more transparent and to show that they are taking steps to solve the problem. Other than this outline, the government also strongly encourages individual households to help conserve water, and boy, did they get creative.

One of the most creative solutions, and my favorite by far, is rock skiing. The entire concept of rock skiing stemmed from sights like this:

140206153652-california-drought-1024x576

Since water conservation is crucial, one of the first areas to receive cuts were ski resorts. Obviously, freezing huge amounts of water into snow for ski resorts is extremely wasteful so they stopped using it and ski resorts in California haven’t been the same since. Skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts were not going to let this stop them, so they came up with rock skiing. It’s exactly what you would imagine.

This video is more of an advocacy project than a highlight reel, as the final words of the video say “No snow. No water. #Climatechangeisreal”. It shows that even though there are still people out there that say climate change is a hoax, there are people out there living through the proof. But these people do not let the state of emergency stop them from doing what they love, and Californians will always be able to find ways to adapt and survive. I absolutely support all of them in their struggles, and you should too. Check out ca.gov/drought for ways to help the state of California.

Presidential Election 2016 (Civic Life #4)

If you’ve been keeping up with my past three blogs, you should (hopefully, if I’ve been doing a good job) have a pretty firm grasp on the origin of political parties in the United States, what the two parties represent in today’s society, and how and where these political parties receive their funds from. Now that you have developed this understanding of our political parties, you are now properly educated and officially prepared for 2016. “What is the big deal with 2016?”, you might be asking me. It’s time for the next Presidential election!

election-20161

After that third blog post of mine, about Super PACs and their hidden agenda in our government, you might be a little disgusted with the political party system in our country and want to register as an independent. Now, here in the United States you have many different freedoms, and if you want to register as an independent you are always free to do so. However, I would strongly advise against that for one reason: you are not able to vote in the primary elections for the upcoming election. For most of my readers, who are between 18-20, this is the first election that you can actually vote in the Presidential election, so you might not be familiar with how it works. This is a great video that clearly explains how the election process works from start to finish:

This video does a great job of covering how an election works from start to finish, but only briefly covers the “little get-togethers” that each political party has to choose their presidential candidate. These get-togethers are actually known as primary elections, and they are basically smaller elections within each party, with the winner receiving the honor of representing their political party in the presidential election. When it comes to primary elections, there are two types of primaries: closed, open, and blanket. Which one of these is used depends on the state.

Closed primary elections serve one general purpose: to elect a candidate to represent your party in the general election. Most states have primaries where each party (Democrats and Republicans) has multiple candidates campaign throughout the country, and each state holds an election to choose a candidate. Since these political parties are private organizations that you must register to be a part of, these elections are limited to members of their respective political parties. For example, a registered Democrat can only vote in the Democratic primaries of their state, and a registered Republican can only vote in the Republican primaries. Voters select who they believe to be the top candidate in their party, and who is best fit to win the general election.

Open primary elections are similar, but rather than being tied to your parties specific primary, you can vote in any primary of your choice. However, the rule still applies that you can only vote in one primary. For example, if a registered Democrat wanted to vote in the Republican primary elections, he can do that, but then he cannot vote in any other primary elections, not even his own.

A blanket election is a third type of election, but it is far less common. A blanket election allows any registered voter to vote in ALL primary elections, regardless of political affiliation. This means they can choose candidates for both major parties as well any other primary elections occurring in their state. If this isn’t making much sense to you, this article does an excellent job of explaining the entire process as well as the types of primaries. http://people.howstuffworks.com/primary.htm

This is where my earlier recommendation comes into play. If you still hate Democrats and Republicans and don’t want anything to do with these parties, but you still want to participate in American politics, you must register as an Independent. The problem with this is that if you register as an independent, you cannot vote in a closed or open primary, you are only allowed to vote if it is a blanket primary. Since blanket primaries are usually very uncommon, independents have a very limited voice during primaries. Now, independents do have their own primary elections, but they are very small and honestly don’t have nearly as large an impact as the Democratic or Republican primaries. In my case, ideologically I consider myself to be an independent but I am registered as a Democrat so my voice can be heard in the primary elections.

Political parties: "Resistance is futile."

Political parties: “Resistance is futile.”

The topic of primaries comes up now because since the general election is only a year and a half away, many candidates are beginning to announce their candidacy for the presidential election. Just last week, there was a lot of noise being made on social media as Hilary Clinton, former First Lady and Secretary of State, announced that she would be running for President of the United States. She is the first Democrat to do so, but the Republicans have been pretty active and seem to have a very intense primary election shaping up. This interactive web page from the New York Times does a much better job of outlining each possible candidate much better than I ever could: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/2016-presidential-candidates.html?_r=0

Based on this, it shows Clinton as the only confirmed Democrat to be running so far, with three other candidates who will probably run, and there are three confirmed Republicans running with another TEN possible candidates. The makes the Republican ticket a potential thirteen person race. Since I only have one choice so far as a registered Democrat, it seems like a pretty easy choice for me. But regardless of your political affiliation, your ideas, or your opinion on the political party system, we can all share one thing: Being involved. No matter what, it is important to get out and vote in next year’s election. Being an informed and active citizen of the United States is one of the greatest duties you can perform for your country, and our generation is one of the least active generations in terms of voting. So please, take a little bit of time out of your day and rock the vote.

Greek Life (Passion #3)

This passion post is probably the news story that has affected me the most personally, so I’m going to take a different approach on this one and write it more as an editorial.

As many of you know, Greek life is under serious scrutiny lately. There have been a wide variety of serious incidents at fraternities all across the nation, both legal and ethical. Most notable is Oklahoma University SAE’s incident, where a video of several members chanting racial slurs was leaked, leading to the expulsion of several members and that chapter being shut down. I’m going to link a video of the video for those interested, but WARNING: This video has a lot of profanity and I recommend watching it at your own discretion.

This incident sparked a serious investigation into Greek life at Oklahoma. Not long after this, another serious incident occurred at our very own Penn State University. The fraternity Kappa Delta Rho, or KDR, got into serious trouble when a private Facebook group they had was reported to the authorities, which included things such as drug deals and pictures of girls passed out in a variety of situations. The Inter Fraternity Council, or IFC, immediately suspended their actions, and the fraternity has been on suspension since, while an investigation into the incident continues. This article on Onward State shows the extent of the information we know now: http://onwardstate.com/2015/03/20/kappa-delta-rho-what-we-know-now/

Now, this post is not a defense of their actions at all. What both of these fraternities did was wrong, and in no way should their actions be justified. The people involved should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, both from law enforcement and their respective universities. Rather, I wanted to share my personal experience with fraternity life and what it means to me.

When I originally came to Penn State, I had no intentions of joining a fraternity. I knew my classes would be tough since I was a part of the honors college, and I didn’t think I would be able to balance myself socially and academically. If anything, I was going to wait until the spring semester to rush. But my brother was in a fraternity here, and I still knew a few friends from back home who were a part of this fraternity so I stopped by a few times just to hang out. In this few trips, I met a ton of new people, a lot of whom had similar interests to me. I particularly remember spending one night talking with a brother of this fraternity about the musical RENT, and how much we both loved it. Not only did I share the same interests with a lot of the brothers, but they were all as academically oriented as I was. There were about 10 or 11 brothers that were also part of the honors college, and they told me that if I ever needed any help that they were always available and willing to help me. I just felt like I belonged here.

DKE in the Christmas spirit.

DKE in the Christmas spirit.

So, I decided to rush. They gave me a bid, and I ended up pledging Delta Kappa Epsilon. At the end of last semester, I was initiated as a brother. I was also recently elected as our fraternities’ THON Chair, which is a great honor to me. One thing a lot of people don’t know is that the full name of THON is the Penn State IFC/PanHell Dance Marathon. THON was originally started by Greek life here at Penn State, exemplifying one of the many positive things that Greek life does for our community (If you’re interested about the origins of THON, check out http://thon.org/about/history).

Greek life has a negative stigma against it because of the public perception of fraternity life created by movies such as Animal House, and social media sites like ImShmacked, which promote excessive partying and drinking. But the truth is, fraternities are mainly just a group of guys that really get along well, have similar goals and interests, and are trying to make the most of their four years here at Penn State just like anyone else. So please, don’t let a handful of guys ruin the reputation of everyone in Greek life. The rest of us are working hard to fight against this reputation and show the positive things we do, and on behalf of all of Greek life, I’m asking for your support to help continue to make Penn State the best university on the planet.

Forty of my best friends here at Penn State.

Forty of my best friends here at Penn State.

Funding for Political Parties (Civic Issues #3)

Hey everyone, welcome back to my blog. It’s been a while since my last civic issues post, so I’m going to take a minute to briefly recap what we’ve been discussing in the last two posts.

The overarching theme of my blog is politics. More specifically, the theme of my blog is political parties: Their origins, their purpose, etc. My first post talked about the origins of political parties in the United States, how they came to be, and the long and windy road that eventually led to the system of Democrats and Republicans we know today. Although these are the two main parties in our system, a huge foundation of our government is that there are free and fair elections, and that anyone is able to run for public office, regardless of their political party. My second post talked more about these smaller political parties and people without any affiliation with a political party. In my second blog post, it was very clear that most smaller parties have almost no chance of competing with the two main parties. One thing I failed to mention was the question I’m sure most of you would be thinking: “Well, why is that?” The main reason smaller parties are unable to compete is due to a lack of funding.

Besides the political support that a candidate receives from their party, a huge factor in their success is funding. Any candidate that is running on the ticket of any political party will receive funding from that party. At a basic level, funds are raised from individual donations by citizens affiliated with that party. This is called “grassroots fundraising”. In the age of the Internet, and even more recently with the growth of crowdfunding websites such as GoFundMe and Kickstarter, this is becoming a very popular method of fundraising. But, when a candidate is a Republican or a Democrat, it’s hard to beat the number of potential donors they have due to their party size. Take a look at this infographic showing the number of Democrats and Republicans in our country:

page1-777px-Party_Identification_(2011).pdf

As you can see, these two parties take up a vast majority of the voter base in terms of numbers. They have a greater access to a larger pool of voters, which means a larger pool of potential donations for them to receive. However, that doesn’t mean that there is no hope for any other party. A notable example of a successful donation campaign is Ron Paul. Although technically a Republican, he affiliated with the party minimally and the party gave him very little support. While Paul was in the Republican primaries in 2008 attempting to receive the Republican bid, he developed a massive grassroots following. Through various social media sites and campaigns, Paul received $4.2 million dollars in donations in just over 24 hours. This event became known as a “money bomb”, which you can read about more here: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/2007-12-17-ronpaul-fundraising_N.htm

Besides individual donations from supporters, another huge advantage that Republicans and Democrats have over other political parties is the supports of PACs. A PAC is a political action committee, and the purpose of a PAC is to pool donations specifically for the support of politicians or specific bills. At the US federal level, an organization is considered a PAC when it receives or donates more than $2,600 for the purpose of influencing a political election, according to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (For more about the history and specifics of this act, check out http://www.fec.gov/info/appfour.htm).

PACs are very important and helpful to many political campaigns, but technically they don’t provide any significant increases in funding over other parties, mainly due to limits placed on their contributions by the Federal Election Commission, or FEC. This table shows the contribution limits that the FEC places on both individuals and PACs:

imrs

As the table shows, a PAC is limited to $15,000 donations if they support more than one candidate and $32,400 if they support one candidate. The FEC sets these limits to prevent massive organizations from exerting too much influence. However, in recent years a new type of PAC, known as a Super PAC, has been able to work around these limits.

Super PACs are a new type of political action committee that can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, individuals and other associations, then spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for and supporting the campaigns of politicians. The reason they are allowed to raise these unlimited amounts of money is because unlike regular PACs, Super PACs are not allowed to work directly with any political candidates. The thing is, the word “directly” is a very vague term and creates a lot of legal gray area. Stephen Colbert addressed this issue a few years ago when he created his own Super PAC “Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” and announced his candidacy for “President of South Carolina”. Legally, since he was collaborating with a political candidate (himself), he was required to give up the ownership rights to his Super PAC. He handed it over to his colleague Jon Stewart, who aptly renamed it “The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC”, and issued a statement to the public reading, “Stephen and I have in no way have worked out a series of morse-code blinks to convey information with each other on our respective shows.” This is a clip from Stephen’s show, The Colbert Report, where he jokingly interrogates his lawyer and former chairman of the FEC over different loopholes he can use to get around the system.

http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/66y7dx/colbert-super-pac-shh—-secret-second-501c4—trevor-potter

Another large issue with Super PACs, along with the enormous funding that they provide, is the amount of influence they can exert on American politics. Since their inception, Super PACs have tended to consist of different interest groups. These groups focus all of their support on politicians that will keep their best interests in mind. This leaves politicians in a tough spot as they have to base their political views and decision making on what Super PACs want, for fear of losing funding they desperately need for their reelection campaigns. But, this is something I plan on talking about much more in depth in my next civic issues blog. Thanks for reading!

History of Smaller Political Parties (Civic Issues #2)

In my first post about politics, I spoke of the history of political parties and questioned their importance today. You heard me talk about the classic battle of Democrats versus Republicans, and what the casualties that war has left in our country. But this war is not just a one-on-one challenge, there are challengers on all fronts. Who are they? Why don’t we ever hear about them? In this post I plan to talk about the smaller known political parties and how they attempt to compete with both the Democrats and Republicans.

Originally, the two main parties in American government were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, otherwise known as the Republicans. These two parties started during the first ever presidential election, in 1789. The Federalists earned their name as they were a group of people, mainly wealthy aristocrats, who strongly supported Alexander Hamilton and his ideas, outlined in The Federalist Papers. The Federalists unofficially backed John Adams as their candidate in the presidential election.

the-federalist-papers-003

The Republicans were able to better associate themselves with the common people of America, and made strong attempts to serve the average citizen as much as possible. The main supporter of the Republicans was Thomas Jefferson, making the election of 1789 a battle between Adams and Jefferson. It was an extremely intense election that ended with Adams just narrowly winning the election over Jefferson.

A political cartoon depicting the Federalists vs. Republicans in Congress

A political cartoon depicting the Federalists vs. Republicans in Congress

This war raged on for several decades, until around the 1820s in a time known as the Era of Good Feelings, when President James Monroe made strong efforts to end bipartisanship and unite the country as a whole. It brought about the end of the Federalists and Republicans as we know them. This era is actually quite ironic as James Monroe suffered heavily with bipartisanship within his own cabinet, which you can read about more here:

https://www.boundless.com/u-s-history/textbooks/boundless-u-s-history-textbook/democracy-in-america-1815-1840-12/the-monroe-and-adams-presidency-102/the-era-of-good-feelings-550-9585/

Following the Era of Good Feelings, rather than the Republican party ceasing to exist like the Federalists, it split off into two branches. One branch was the Jacksonian Democrats, led by Andrew Jackson, and the other was the Whig party, led by Henry Clay. The Whig party was very short lived, however, as the party split and crumbled due to a serious division regarding the issue of slavery. In the following years, a brand new Republican Party re-emerged in place of the Whigs. Influenced by many of the Whig’s ideas, the Republicans quickly rose to prominence.

This brings us to our current system today. The Democrats and the Republicans. Although their views and beliefs have shifted radically over the past century and a half, their dominance in the political system has not. The question is, what if I don’t agree strongly with one side or another? Do I have to pick one? The answer is: No, you can register yourself as an independent, but the system encourages you not to do that.

Allow me to explain. In any Presidential election, there are two elections. There are primary elections, where each party votes on which candidate wants to represent them, and there is the general election, where one Republican takes on one Democrat. If you are not registered with a party, then you are unable to vote in the primary election. This limits your democratic ability as a citizen, which makes it highly encouraged to pick a party, no matter which one, rather than registering as an independent. For those curious, here are all of the current political parties: http://www.thegreenpapers.com/G14/parties.phtml

Also notice how I described the general election as “one Republican taking on one Democrat”. I used this phrasing on purpose because the truth of the matter is, those are really the only two parties with any serious contention for the Presidency. Since the modern two-party system of Democrats and Republicans started in 1864, no third party has ever even come close to winning the Presidential race. The closest anyone has come was in the election of 1912, when there were three serious competitors: Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a former president, and Taft was his Secretary of War and the current incumbent, whom Roosevelt had groomed for the race. Roosevelt originally had no intentions of running again, but when Taft served as President he became increasingly conservative which Roosevelt did not like. He left and formed his own party, the Progressive Party, better known as the Bull Moose party, to run against Taft. You can read more about it here, as I don’t want to go too in depth on this.

http://americanhistory.about.com/od/politicalparties/p/bull_moose.htm

In the end, Roosevelt ending up losing mainly due to a massive lack of funding. The Republicans and Democrats simply had too many wealthy supporters with a seeming endless supply of money for their candidates to fund their campaign. The Republicans and Democrats could travel all across the country to spread their message without any worry about the costs behind it, when any independent party does not have that luxury. In the definition of a true democracy, it is held to be true that any person should have a fair chance in an election. Yet, it seems that only these two parties are able to competitively run in any election because their funding is just insanely large compared to anything else. It makes you wonder, where do these parties get all this money from? Are there any rules to where this money can come from? That is a completely different beast, and I plan to address the funding of political parties in my next civic issues post.

To end this topic for today, let us not forget what George Washington, father of the United States, had to say about political parties and their impact:

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Even over two hundred years later, these words still ring very true.

Campus shooting at Chapel Hill (Passion #2)

Earlier this week, on a quiet Tuesday afternoon in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, shots rang out in an apartment complex near the University of North Carolina. Three victims were identified in this shooting: Deah Barakat, 33, a second-year dental student at the University of North Carolina, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, who was set to enroll at UNC in the fall, and Yusor’s 19 year old sister, Razan, who was a student at North Carolina State University. The following day, a 46 year old man named Craig Stephen Hicks was apprehended and charged with three counts of murder.

Even though this is a great tragedy within itself, there is an even deeper controversy regarding the cause of this shooting. The entire Muslim community is concerned that these act was a hate crime, and there is an active campaign against Muslims in this country. However, according to the shooter’s wife, this incident stemmed from a long standing dispute over a parking space in the apartment complex that they shared. Chapel Hill police assured the community that they would learn Hicks’ true motive, but their reports say that the parking spot claim seems to be validated.

The incident has sparked some serious racial tensions, with the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter popping up frequently throughout social media.

Many people have been voicing their opinions on the matter on social media.

Many people have been voicing their opinions on the matter on social media.

The Barakat family claims that there had been many prior interactions between the two parties, including many comments that Hicks made about how their appearance made him uncomfortable. In an interview with Suzanna Barakat, Deah’s sister, she says that she had heard second hand about these comments through some of Deah’s friends, with whom he had shared his frustration. You can watch that full interview here:

In this interview, she makes it very clear that she wants the media to focus on the good that her family, and the Muslim community as a whole, has done to make the world a better place. Deah was set to embark on a trip to Turkey over the summer with ten other dentists to provide dental care to Syrian refugees, and he posted a YouTube clip asking for donations to help these refugees.

Since this tragedy, the donations have been pouring in for his cause. The goal for the project was $20,000. As of Thursday morning, the project had raised over $200,000. Along with the donations come many words of kindness.

“While the families are overwhelmed with grief, let us all overwhelm them with love from across the world by donating to Syrian Dental Relief,” said Jane Chesterman Jewell.

North Carolina State University also released an article In Memoriam of the victims of this tragedy, where Deah was an alumnus and Razan was a current student (https://news.ncsu.edu/2015/02/gone-too-soon/). There have been multiple candlelight vigils in their honor at the NC State campus, and many students have spoken out about how Deah and his wife Yunus have impacted their life.

My thoughts are prayers go out to the families of these three beautiful young individuals, who were taken from us too soon.

screen-shot-2015-02-11-at-1-56-30-pm

DeflateGate (Passion #1)

Yup, that’s right! It’s another football scandal everyone. It’s amazing how much controversy surrounds the sport, in literally every aspect. On the field, off the field, player, coach, official, it doesn’t matter what your role in the sport is, odds are you’re probably causing a scandal in the sport of football somewhere.

Today’s scandal is brought to you by the New England Patriots.

untitled

Just last Sunday, the New England Patriots played the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game. The Patriots ended up routing the Colts 45-7, but final score wasn’t the focus of the game. This was.

http://www.latimes.com/sports/nfl/la-sp-patriots-deflated-footballs-20150121-story.html

As it turns out, eleven of the twelve balls the Patriots provided to officials were underinflated. This may not sound like such a big deal, just reflate them or don’t use them right? The referees did not end up noticing this until after the game, so they missed the ball (pun?) on that one. This game was being played in cold weather, and in cold weather the ball becomes rigid and more difficult to grip. By deflating the balls, it creates creases in the ball that allow both the quarterback and his receivers to grip and catch the ball better. Each team also provides game balls only when their team is on offense, so it would have provided an exclusive advantage to the Patriots.

waka-flocka-ok-meme

There is a lot of controversial debate about the issue. Most people agree that the outcome of the game was not affected by the underinflated balls, judging by the scoreboard. Dwayne Allen, a cornerback for the Colts, was quoted as saying “They could have played with soap for balls and beat us.” The Patriots were simply the better team and there was no denying that. Many people continue to be outraged about the code of ethics used in New England. This is just a brief outline of New England’s numerous scandals over the years. Some highlights include filming a defensive coordinator’s signals illegally and a shady substitution just in last week’s game that worked out in their favor.

http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/deflate-gate-england-patriots-controversies/story?id=28373420

There’s no doubt that a lot of people have issues with the New England Patriots. They’re the team that everybody loves to hate. They have won three Super Bowls just in this millennium and have no problems crushing everyone beneath them on their way to another, no matter the cost. Bill Belichick is arguably the greatest head coach of all time, and the same goes for Tom Brady at the quarterback position. There’s no denying that they are good at what they do, but when you use questionable methods to get there, it always leave a sort of mental asterisk next to their names in every record book. It makes you wonder, “Did they really win all the games on their own? What kind of stuff was going on that we just don’t know about? There must have been some sort of other way they cheated.” Even though the NFL isn’t taking any serious against the New England Patriots for their actions, that mental doubt is worse than any sanction they can bring down on them.

Political Warfare: The Invisible Line (Civic Issues #1)

When I was younger, my dad gave me some sound advice when it came to meeting new people. He told me, “If you’re meeting someone for the first time, or you’re not very comfortable around someone yet, don’t ever talk about rape.”

I thought, “Well that makes sense, rape is a touchy subject for a lot of people.”

He finished his statement by saying, “RAPE is an acronym. It means Religion, Abortion, Politics, and Economics.”

Since it’s the spring semester, and I’m a little more comfortable with everyone here, I’ll talk to you about to the P in that acronym, politics.

Politics is a touchy subject for a lot of people mainly due to the divide that is created between party lines. If you consider yourself a Democrat, you are pretty much obligated to dislike anything and everything about the Republican Party, and vice versa. Having any sort of debate about a political issue will slowly start to fade away from the topic of the debate and quickly become a Republicans versus Democrats free-for-all. When did this bipartisan warfare start? and more importantly, why aren’t there any efforts being made to bring peace to the Senates and Houses of Representatives nationwide?

Republicans-vs-Democrats

First, you need to answer the question, “What is the purpose of having a political party? Why not just have every candidate run independently for every position?” Check out this article from the Washington Post about the shift of political parties from their original purpose:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/have-political-parties-lost-their-purpose/2013/03/18/2486608e-8d9f-11e2-9838-d62f083ba93f_story.html

The article says that originally, political parties were designed to best represent the interests of the people who affiliated with them, and today that still holds true. The big difference now though is that when our democracy was just beginning to form, it was in the late eighteenth century. Americans did not have any access or knowledge to what was going on in their government at a time besides a limited understanding through word of mouth and infrequent newspaper articles. Now, in a modern age where electronics and social media such as Twitter or Facebook allow people to communicate with anyone worldwide instantly, people don’t feel the need to be represented anymore. A record number 40 percent of all Americans identify themselves as independent from any political party. The article also cites a very limited understanding of the ideologies and beliefs of each political system. In the article, the author states:

“But for many of those years, the concern was that the parties were too much alike and philosophically undefined. For instance, if you said “Democrat” in the 1950s, you might be describing a Southern segregationist or a left-wing Northeasterner. Republicans for decades were united primarily by their views on economic issues, and tolerated a broad range of opinion on social matters and on national security.

Now, the opposite is true. Party labels have become a shorthand for a rigid ideological dividing line — Democrats to the left and Republicans to the right.”

Based on this, it shows that the political party system does not have any set beliefs for either party. Instead, each party has a dynamic that is constantly changing every day based on the beliefs of its members. For more information on why political parties to change their positions, here is a thesis from the University of Amsterdam.

http://www.catherinedevries.eu/WhyPartiesChangePosition_Manuscript.pdf

The issue with this fierce divide between the parties is that when it comes down to the real issues, the bills and amendments that need to be passed through our legislative branch every day, it becomes more about the politics and less about the issues at hand. There are some people out there that are so loyal to their political party, that I truly believe they would vote for a dog if it ran on their ticket.

political-dog

When people are too caught up in following what their party wants and not what they want, it is nearly impossible to reach a majority on any vote. This ends with a very small amount of bills being passed, and the track record for Congress reflects that.

http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/congress-track-be-least-productive-modern-history-n169546

This massive lack of bills being passed is mainly due to House Republicans filibustering many bills that are backed or pushed by the Democrats, since the Democratic Party holds office. Republicans will argue that these statistics are flawed and they should not be assessed on the number of bills they pass. They believe it is their job to prevent unnecessary or uncompleted bills from being passed, which they have certainly been doing. Essentially, Republicans are refusing to pass any bills Democrats bring to the table, leading to a constant stalemate in Congress. Although that article is from July, Congress had in fact achieved their target and been the least productive Congress in modern history.

This raises the question: Are political parties really worth it? We raise this political warfare daily, with the divide being so wide that it’s considered amazing that a congressman can reach across the aisle for bipartisanship. Shouldn’t that aisle be a bridge instead of a moat? It’s almost as if there are two halves of a whole each working for their own agenda, rather than one group of people working towards a common goal. This country is being cleaved in half by this system of political parties, and I am glad to see the country starting to take a step in the right direction with such a growing number of people identifying as independents. We’re the United States of America, we practically brought direct democracy to the modern world. If we had the strength and willpower to do that 250 years ago, who’s to say we can’t reinvent the party system?

A revolution starts by spreading ideas. Here we are, in the 21st, century. The golden age of the Internet. When I press “publish”, this article will be on a server in microseconds where millions can view my thoughts. Just enter the right combination of words, gain enough exposure and file sharing of an idea, and you can start a revolution. All it takes is one click.

Probe lands on surface of comet

In honor of my final blog post, I felt like it was only fitting that it be about the future and where it is taking us.

Just this past week, a small probe sent into space by the European Space Agency landed on a comet known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, over three hundred million miles away from Earth. This is a completely unprecedented moment, a probe has never before landed on a comet (unless we’re talking about Armageddon with Bruce Willis). This landing was a trip that took over twenty years to complete, with the probe travelling four billion miles to reach its goal. For such a massive event, I feel like this story has completely been swept under the rug. It was all over the news the day of the event, and from that day on I haven’t heard one update on the event whatsoever. This event is more than just one single incident, it is the start of a vast movement into space exploration, this landing shows that our capabilities for space travel are increasing rapidly. I don’t have much of an understanding of it, but probes like this are what the Lunar Lion project are involved with actually, just directed towards the moon. Maybe after they accomplish their goal of reaching the moon, they can rebrand themselves and become the Comet Lion.

Comet2

One update I did see regarding the comet, however, was that the probe has been collecting samples of the comet, a few of which contain organic compounds. Any material containing carbon is considered an organic compound, as carbon is the building block of all life. Comets contain matter dated to about 4.5 billion years ago, which is awfully close to the beginning of our planet. This supports a theory that comets were responsible for bringing some more complex compounds such as amino acids to Earth, dawning all of the life that we know now. Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins, and proteins are the building blocks of, well, us.

Unfortunatately, the probe ran out of battery last Friday, but scientists were able to adjust one of its solar panels towards more sunlight before it became inoperable. They hope that within the next couple months or by summer at the latest, that the probe will recharge enough to become operable and they can continue to conduct more research and gather more data on the comet. Regardless, it is a monumental event for both engineers and scientists across all fields. This landing reaffirms our capabilities as a race, and reminds us that we can accomplish anything with our work.

and just like that, we’ve reached the end of my final blog post. I sincerely hope that reading my blog has kept you more up-to-date with events going on outside more than just the Penn State community. It can be so easy to get caught up in this amazing town that we forget that there are actually other things going on in the world. But within the community, I also hope that everyone had an amazing first semester here in State College! Here’s to seven more wonderful semesters in the Happiest Valley of all. Thank you for reading.

Thoughts on TED Talk (RCL #10)

Going into my TED Talk, I felt like I was pretty prepared. I had everything ready to go, my cues all lined up for what I was going to say and when I was going to say it, and I felt confident about my speech. Just to be safe, before I started my speech, I went through my PowerPoint to make sure that everything was running smoothly. It was then that I noticed that the video that I had embedded into my slide wasn’t working. Despite my best efforts to get it to work, it just wasn’t happening. I had no choice but to delete the slide. This was a pretty bad situation for me, because it threw off all my cues and I had to improvise from that point on. Another technical difficulty with mine was the sound I decided to play. I wanted to briefly play the Monday Night Football theme song, so I set a 10 second clip of it in the slide, but for some reason it played the entire thing, almost one minute long. Looking at the video, it didn’t sound as bad as I thought, but it was kind of jarring for me and I wasn’t really able to get my thoughts together until it stopped.

Other than those two issues, I think the content of my speech was pretty good and I addressed the concept of what a TED talk was all about. If it wasn’t for my technical difficulties I think my speech could have been much better. The other speeches in my group were all great, they spoke well and I was very interested in what they had to say. One thing I really liked and remember well was Matt’s animations on his slides. He had people circled and as he would talk about each person the circle would shift over their head. It looked like it took a ton of work to make that happen and I was really impressed by that. I think as a whole, our group did very well on their TED talks.

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